High school. Many (and I do stress many) a filmmaker has tackled the presently hackneyed subject, some of whom are successful in concocting a genuinely authentic experience while most others fall flat on their incompetent asses. 2004’s Speak manages to slip comfortably into the former category thanks to Jessica Sharzer’s uncanny ability to stay true to the film’s source material and successfully mold a believable atmosphere that exists straight through to its conclusion. It captures the true essence of what it’s like as an adolescent, carrying with it all the insecurities and overwhelming naivety that could ultimately lead to an individual’s inability to realize the severity of a trauma Stewart’s Melinda unwillingly succumbs to.
Having said this, anyone who’s anyone knows just how cruel and unfeeling pubescent teenagers can be, more specifically how oblivious they are to the truth behind their classmate’s behavior. Melinda’s choice to refrain from informing even her closest friend of her plight proves to be an exceptionally appropriate vehicle in illustrating these harsh realities, revealing to us as viewers that she’d rather not speak at all for fear of further social backlash. Unfortunately, this lack of communication proves to do more harm than good, as the traumatizing event in question repeatedly pushes itself to the forefront of her mind; an admittedly unwelcome occurrence that forces Melinda to divert her attention elsewhere, even if such an exercise can often be perceived as hit-or-miss.
Speak‘s pacing, despite the film’s almost obdurately glum tone, is virtually spot-on from start to finish thanks to Sharzer’s ample and appealingly sensitive direction. Sharzer also finds solace in some seriously brilliant casting choices, Stewart notably, who proves once again that her earlier roles are much better suited for a wider audience, and above all, their potential appreciation for her. Barring the laudably apt handling of such an emotionally demanding role, even the chemistry exhibited between her and her co-stars further reinforces the film’s believability factor in staying true to its high school setting, thus effectively rounding out Speak‘s agreeably authentic atmosphere.
To conclude, it’s really a shame that the film didn’t receive more recognition upon its initial release, but truth be told, I wouldn’t have gotten the chance to see it myself if it weren’t for a friend’s recommendation. These details aside, Speak succeeds as both a poignant coming-of-age tale and an honest look at adolescence and the obstacles some may be forced to overcome no matter how hard it may be. More importantly, it’s a believable, thoughtfully paced and well-acted cinematic experience with a premise that packs enough originality and seriousness to warrant a view from just about everyone, Stewart fans and haters alike.